A panel of international experts has found that farmers in Zambia, Rwanda and Bangladesh are more willing to pay for visits to plant clinics than ever before. Plant clinics help farmers identify and diagnose crop pests, which are often devastating to harvests, and other diseases that may have negative impacts on yields.
A total of 64% of farmers who participated in the survey indicated they would be willing to pay a sum sufficient to cover the operating expenses of plant clinics, according to a global team of specialists led by Adewale Ogunmodede, junior agricultural economist located at CABI’s centre in Egham, United Kingdom. This will enable them to keep receiving guidance on how to improve their production, along with their standard of living.
“Data was obtained from 602, 637, and 837 households [respectively] between 2018 and 2019 in Bangladesh, Rwanda, and Zambia. Farmers who had previously visited a plant clinic were surveyed and focal pests were fruit flies on pumpkin in Bangladesh and fall armyworms (Spodoptera frugiperda) on maize in Rwanda and Zambia,” said CABI, an international NPO that uses research and data within agriculture to improve the lives of farming communities, via a statement.
“The researchers, which also include those from CABI’s centre in Switzerland; Cranfield University, UK; the University of Ibadan, and Olabisi Onabanjo University, both in Nigeria, learned that farmers are willing to pay 0.27 USD, 0.85 USD and 2.225 USD per visit respectively.”
The study’s findings were published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. The researchers also discovered that only a small minority of farmers – between 1% in Rwanda and 16% in Zambia – were unwilling to make financial contributions to the plant clinics’ sustainability.
The plant clinic extension strategy, which is a component of the global Plantwise initiative run by CABI, aids smallholder farmers by giving them direct assistance with crop pest diagnosis and control.
The rise of plant clinics, doctors
“The first plant clinic was opened in Bolivia in 2003 before spreading to 35 developing countries where around 5 000 plant clinics have been established to provide free pest diagnostic and advisory services,” CABI added. “There are currently 30 plant clinics and over 200 plant doctors in Bangladesh, 66 plant clinics in Rwanda staffed by 350 plant doctors, and 121 plant clinics and 350 plant doctors in Zambia.”
According to Ogunmodede, external funders now being willing to pay for plant clinic operations is a cause for concern, as this raises worries about the long-term viability of receiving funding.
“These findings imply that farmers value the services provided by plant clinics and are inclined to contribute financially towards their sustainability. It would be helpful to pilot fee-paying plant clinic services to gauge farmers’ actual willingness to pay,” he said. “Our findings also suggest that in some contexts, more educated and wealthier farmers, as well as members of farmer associations, could be targeted to pay the actual per-user cost of maintaining plant clinic services.”
In order to be included in the provision of fee-based plant clinic services, the scientists also propose allowing low-income and elderly households to pay subsidised costs.
Payment methods explored
“Future research would be worthwhile to explore the farmers’ most preferred payment methods, thereby encouraging more farmers to participate in the payment system,” said Dr Justice Tambo, co-author, and socio-economist at CABI’s center in Switzerland. “For example, Cartmell has reported that in Latin America, the sustainability of plant clinics is achievable through payment of levies to farmer associations that offer plant clinic services.”
The researchers conclude that their estimations of willingness to pay only account for the expenses of maintaining already-established plant clinics. They claim that to pay for the costs connected with building the plant clinics, financial pledges from regional or local implementing organisations would be necessary. This covers data administration, staff training, and the purchase of clinic supplies such as tents, hand lens tablets, and portable microscopes.
“One approach, the scientists say, to cover the initial setup costs and contribute towards the sustainability of plant clinics, would be to integrate this extension model into national or local government agricultural policies or extension strategies,” CABI concluded.